Kayleigh had run out of postage stamps and was waiting for new ones to arrive. It was slowing her assault on a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
She pointed to a stack of letters she’d already written to what she liked to call “the JWs.”
“These are ready to mail. I’ve got 16 letters written and 34 to go, but it’s only Tuesday. I’m way ahead.”
After she lost her waitressing job last year, Kayleigh contracted a nasty case of COVID. “I was bored, I couldn’t work, and my after-thingies kind of laid me out,” she said of the post-COVID vertigo and lung damage she’d been left with. “And then I got this JW letter in the mail and I knew my purpose in life.”
That purpose, she explained, was to do battle with people she thought were forcing their religion on her. Her former brother-in-law’s ex-wife used to be a Jehovah’s Witness, and back when they’d both been married to the Jones boys, she’d filled Kayleigh in on how things worked in that religion.
“They go door to door to preach, right?” she asked no one in particular. “But then the pandemic hit, and they couldn’t do that. So they started writing to people. I don’t mean like emails or texts. I mean, they wrote letters. To strangers. With a pen!” (Fact check: It's true.)
She flung a handwritten letter, penned neatly in ink on white-lined legal paper, across the table. “Dear Neighbor,” the letter began. It was from a stranger who wanted a woman who lived on Kayleigh’s street to know how sorry she was that the pandemic kept her from visiting in person to discuss the Bible and how Jesus was definitely not the Son of God.
“I don’t have anything against the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” said Kayleigh, who referred to herself as a “lazy Methodist” and made it a point not to share her last name with newspapermen. “I have everything against them.”
She pointed an index finger into the air. “One, they believe in Armageddon. Two, they don’t believe in Hell. Three, they think Jesus became the King of Heaven in 1914.”
Kayleigh paused and leaned in a little. “1914,” she repeated slowly. “Like the same year Arizona became a state.” (We actually achieved statehood in 1912, but close enough.)
She resumed her counting. “Four, they show up at your house to try to convince you their religion is the right one, which tells you they think yours isn’t. Five, when they can’t come bother you at home because of COVID, they write you letters pretending they care about you. Six, they have really ugly stationery like your grandma would use.”
She held up a letter dated March 31 that was signed “Blessings, Elaine,” written on pale notepaper printed with butterflies and roses.
“I was bitching to my neighbor about how I got this JW letter around Christmas, and she ran inside and came back with a letter she’d gotten,” Kayleigh recalled. “We started asking around and practically everyone on our block had gotten one. I gathered them all up and read them and then I got really mad.”
She turned her anger into a new hobby. “At first, I got a bunch of my friends and family together on Friday nights. I ordered pizza and we’d socially distance and read the letters out loud and laugh. After we were all pizza-ed up, everyone would write their own letter to whatever congregation.”
Attendance at Kayleigh’s Friday night JW parties dwindled, maybe because she was very strict about what a response letter could contain.
“No profanity,” she insisted. “No telling them they suck because they’re JW or because they’re not whatever your religion is. Just strictly telling them why it’s not okay to tell me about your belief system as if you care about me.”
Today, it’s mostly just Kayleigh doing the letter-writing. “I get it,” she shrugged. “People got bored writing letters about something I’m mad about.”
Once word got out that she was collecting letters from Jehovah’s Witnesses, people began bringing them to her. “I had a post up on NextDoor, and I got a ton of JW letters from that. But then some asshole took the post down.”
Kayleigh said she hated the brochures that came with the letters almost as much as the letters themselves. Her dining room table was littered with them. On the cover of one, a drawing of a sad-looking little boy sat slumped under the legend, “What is the key to happy family life?”
“For me, the key to happy life is not having people shove their beliefs down my throat,” Kayleigh said as she fiddled with a bandage on her index finger. “This blister is slowing me down. Maybe instead of brochures and letters, the JWs would like to mail me some Band-Aids.”
She paused to smile. “Or some more postage stamps.”
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.